Johannesburg

Cassi Namoda, Armando from Zambezi province late to meet beloved, a tragedy, 2020, oil and acrylic on cotton-polyester, 48 × 36".

Cassi Namoda, Armando from Zambezi province late to meet beloved, a tragedy, 2020, oil and acrylic on cotton-polyester, 48 × 36".

Cassi Namoda

Goodman Gallery | Johannesburg

Dreamlike pastel greens, browns, and blues punctuated “To Live Long Is to See Much,” Cassi Namoda’s first exhibition in Africa outside her birth country of Mozambique. The work of the New York– and Los Angeles–based artist insists on the reciprocal relationship of Western and African aesthetics and continues to shatter the myth of an African art that gives to the West but cannot productively receive from it. Her cheeky references to Western art history include an homage to Goya in We have become strangers (Fight with a javelin and boron). An ode to Goya (all works 2020) and one to Hieronymus Bosch in the reference to mysticism in To Live Long Is To See Much (Ritual Bathers III). In contrast to Bosch’s cluttered, heavily populated canvases rich with an assortment of esoteric subject matter, Namoda opts for a freer picture plane, with solitary figures, sometimes accompanied by one or two companions. The settings evoke Mozambican rural landscapes, for instance in Sleeping man in Alto Molocue, or the country’s cities, as in The joy of living, outweighs misery and sorrow. The works with urban settings often conjure the sensationalism of telenovelas or the humor of historical African films such as Ousmane Sembène’s Borom sarret (The Wagoner, 1963). The scene in One Night in Beira town, one Fernando, one Afonso. Maria Joao tells Maria Ana to “let him go” at 2 a.m. but, living a novella seems practical for Maria Ana. is an enactment dense with soap-operatic melodrama: A bewildered man arrives bearing a bouquet only to find his date weeping as another man leaves her. The scene brings to mind the work of Mozambican photographer Ricardo Rangel, whose images of pre-independence (that is, pre-1975) Angola were banned by the Portuguese government. In Armando from Zambezi province late to meet beloved, a tragedy, the doleful protagonist has missed a rendezvous. His lover, perhaps adhering to the clock time imposed by colonial rule, has arrived on time, while he inadvertently followed the more flexible African time of his forefathers. In the end, his disappointment—theatrically demonstrated by his eating of the crimson flower he had brought as he seasons it with his salty tears—may reflect not so much a personal predicament as the effects of the colonial burden on quotidian Black life.

Namoda suggests that in Lusophone Africa, the relationship between Blackness and disability is embroiled in the violence of colonialism on Black bodies. The peculiar love life of Vania & Velma and “Untitled” Conjoined twins both reference the enslaved nineteenth-century African American twins Millie and Christine McKoy, who were exhibited across the US and Europe. The woman on crutches in The joy of living, outweighs misery and sorrow reminds us of all the Black bodies that have been dismembered by civil wars, often a result of colonialism.

An expedition through the thirteen works in the show revealed the significance of the exhibition’s title, an English translation of the Swahili proverb “Kuishi kwingi ni kuona mengi,” recalling that Swahili was once proposed as the lingua franca of the Pan-Africanist movement that was meant to unite the continent. As the archival YouTube clips in a video accompanying the exhibition indicated, “to live long” is, in this context, to have witnessed, among other things, a 1971 conversation between writers James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni; Zimbabwe’s day of independence in 1980; and a 1982 video of Mozambique’s first president after independence, Samora Machel, berating double agents and Black Mozambican citizens who fed information to the Portuguese secret police as traitors for delaying the quest for Mozambican liberation. These transnational and intergenerational struggles for Black freedom still reverberate today, indicating that to live across time is to see that things change slowly or, as though they are on a loop, not at all.